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RACINE — The Racine community has lost a longtime public official with the unexpected Thursday morning death of Racine Alderman Ray DeHahn.

DeHahn, 80, was the sitting alderman of Racine’s northside 7th District, which runs roughly from Carlton drive on the north to Melvin Avenue on the south and from LaSalle Street on the east to Mount Pleasant Street on the west.

DeHahn also served as a Racine County Board supervisor for 16 terms, from 1972 until he retired on April 15, 2004.

Racine Mayor Cory Mason said DeHahn spent more than 40 years “serving the community he loved, as a bus driver, a County Board supervisor, an alderman and in so many other ways.

“This is a somber moment for us all,” Mason said. “Just last night, Alderman DeHahn engaged in a lively debate during a Committee of the Whole meeting. It is hard to believe he is gone.”

Mason said the community will reflect on DeHahn’s life and accomplishments.

“Ray had an invaluable historical perspective of our community, a no-nonsense approach to governing, and a wit that was uniquely his own,” Mason said. “As his family works through this difficult time, we must keep them in our thoughts and prayers, and offer to support them as best we can. His passing is truly a loss for all of us and he will be sorely missed.”

Alderman Terry McCarthy of the 9th District said the community “lost a lot of historical perspective for the city and county.”

“It’s very sudden, considering he was at meetings the last two nights,” McCarthy said. “He always brought a unique perspective on things and was very down to earth.”

Council President Jason Meekma released a statement expressing the council’s appreciation for the “dedication, sacrifice and love that (DeHahn) gave to our community.”

“Ray was more than a fellow alderman, he was like family,” said Meekma. “His wisdom from years of service, his compassion for the needs of his constituents and his deep love for his family just scratches the surface of how wonderful this man was.”

‘You folks’

Racine County Board member Robert Miller, who served with DeHahn on the board, said he will miss DeHahn.

“Ray was a very principled and dedicated supervisor,” Miller said. “He always had the common man in mind when he was making decisions and asking questions.”

Miller said DeHahn cared about local government and “held no grudges” with anyone he served with.

“It’s a big loss because he had so much history and so much knowledge of how things worked,” Miller said. “He had a perspective of a senior member of a community which is very valuable.”

When County Board President Russell Clark first started on the board, DeHahn was already an established presence there.

“He loved being part of helping out others,” Clark said. “To him, everyone was a constituent. He just felt that it was his responsibility to be part of the community and to help others.”

Few current Racine public officials have served as long as DeHahn, and Clark said the community is losing someone “with a sensibility for negotiating.”

“He was always able to look at both sides of an issue, if he was against it or for it,” Clark said. “He would always bring that to the surface and play ‘pro and con’ during the discussion process.”

Clark fondly remembers how DeHahn referred to people as “you folks.”

“He always loved that — ‘you folks,’” Clark said. “I consider him a friend. We always enjoyed bumping into each other and talked for about a half an hour … he always had little connections that he enjoyed.”

At its Sept. 11 meeting, the County Board is scheduled to have a remembrance resolution for DeHahn and former County Board member Keith Tschumper, who died Tuesday, which is normal protocol for any diseased former County Board member. Tschumper served on the board for 10 years and his obituary can be found on Page A12 of today’s Journal Times.

‘An institution’

Former mayor John Dickert released a statement on Facebook saying, “This morning we all lost the hardest working supporter of workers’ rights I have met in my lifetime. Ray DeHahn NEVER backed down from a fight for working families in the 44 plus years he was elected. Working families lost an angel and my family lost a great friend we loved and will miss.”

Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave said DeHahn was “an institution and he will be missed for sure.”

“I don’t think I remember not knowing Ray; I’ve known him since I was a kid,” Delagrave said. “I don’t think I’ve met anybody that cared about this community more than him.”

Delagrave said DeHahn had a way of bringing people together from different sides and solving issues.

“He saw the issues from the county side and saw the issues from the city side, and he certainly had that rare lens that he could look through in determining solutions to problems,” Delagrave said. “There’s a lot to be said about the knowledge and expertise that Ray had… issues that tend to be polarizing to some, he was able to melt that polarization away.”

The Democratic Party of Racine County released a statement calling DeHahn “a warrior” who fought for the rights of others during his years as a representative and union member.

“Ray knew everyone and how to get things done,” the release stated. “He was the ‘go to guy’ for information, advice, or a helping hand.”

DPR Chair Meg Andrietsch also remembered DeHahn on a personal level and said she would miss chatting with him on the phone.

“He always ended the call with ‘keep up the great job,’” said Andrietsch. “Those words will serve as our inspiration as we move forward, and we send our deepest sympathies to his family.”

City service

After serving on the County Board, DeHahn was elected as alderman.

“I personally want to recognize the incredible work Ray did for this community around unions and transit,” said Meekma. “Ray was the driving force behind so many initiatives that have helped this community grow and prosper.”

DeHahn sat on many committees, including the Affirmative Action and Human Rights Commission, Committee of the Whole, Common Council, Community Development, Public Safety and Licensing Commission and Transit and Parking Commission.

He was last re-elected to the City Council in the spring of 2017 for a two-year term. As of Thursday evening, it was unclear whether his seat will be filled before the spring 2019 election.

DeHahn married his wife Diana in 1957 and he cared for her before she died in 2011. They had five sons, Matthew, Thomas, Phillip, James and John and one daughter, Christine.

“Ray was a very principled and dedicated supervisor. He always had the common man in mind when he was making decisions and asking questions.” Robert Miller, veteran Racine County Board member

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Christina Lieffring contributed to this report.

Reporter

Ricardo Torres covers federal, state and Racine County politics along with the Village of Mount Pleasant. He bleeds Wisconsin sports teams.